We headed to the home of NASCAR in the USA to sample the new Ford Mustang Dark Horse. Fittingly, and based on the seventh-generation Mustang, the brand’s new Dark Horse badge will also underpin Ford’s newest racing ambitions.
Ford Mustang V8 Dark Horse fast facts
- Price: TBC
- Engine: Coyote naturally aspirated V8
- Transmission: six-speed manual or 10-speed auto
- Power: 372 kW @ 7 250 r/min
- Torque: 567 N.m @ 4 900 r/min
- Driven wheels: rear
What are we driving?
The seventh generation of one of the best-selling sports coupés in the world. While the new Mustang isn’t necessarily as “all-new” as the press material suggests, Ford has nevertheless introduced small yet significant evolutionary changes to the outgoing car’s packaging to deliver an altogether more polished, better handling and more engaging modern Mustang – that’s likely to the last of its breed in terms of its purely petrol-powered propulsion.
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Available in both convertible and fastback, as well as with the brand’s 2,3-litre EcoBoost motor and the obligatory 5,0-litre V8, the Mustang is also still offered with a choice of six-speed manual or 10-speed automatic transmission. Something for everyone, then.
For the time being, a new Dark Horse derivative that for the first time introduces badging with a forward-facing horse tops the range.
Why is the new Ford Mustang Dark Horse significant?
While the new Mustang was launched to international media a few weeks ago, our first drive of the latest Pony car took place at the home of NASCAR in Charlotte, North Carolina. The reason for this chosen location is two-fold: While it afforded us the opportunity to drive the new flagship Dark Horse derivative around a section of the spectacular Charlotte Motor Speedway (including on the banked oval), this city is also home to both 100 per cent of current NASCAR teams, as well as the Ford Performance Technical Centre.
A facility that caters to each of this brand’s global racing programmes, including the forthcoming Dakar project, a tour of Ford Performance on the eve of our drive of the Mustang Dark Horse made it very clear that the new car exists to not only to continue its legacy among road-going enthusiasts but also for this brand to go racing with.
The seventh-generation Mustang will underpin as many as six new racing car programmes, including GT3 (Le Mans), GT4, NASCAR, Australian Supercars and a US-based Dark Horse R customer racing series.
Read more here: Ford’s Dark Horse R is a Bonkers Track Only Mustang
What’s new on the Mustang Dark Horse?
Based on the same platform as the outgoing car, highlights of the new Mustang include an altogether more aggressive stance, including a deeper-set headlamp cluster that seems to peer out from below the car’s extended bonnet brow. My favourite design element of the new car, in the context of our US-based launch route, I would suggest that Ford’s design team was inspired by the suitably menacing look of the current Dodge Challenger package – this car’s dual, ring-shaped LED driving lights impossible to miss in the traffic.
The most significant change to the Mustang package sees the adoption of digital instrumentation that replaces the analogue clusters that we have become used to through six generations in 58 years. Highly customisable, including the ability to call upon some of the layouts from cars of yesteryear, this display moulds seamlessly with a 13,2-inch infotainment touchscreen that hosts the brand’s newest Sync4 operating system.
In Dark Horse guise, this driver-oriented central screen can be configured via the MyMustang module to display performance-oriented gauges and timing screen readouts.
The headline 500 hp offered by the flagship model is achieved via the fitment of a new dual intake manifold that’s fed via so-called “nostrils” in the car’s matte black grille, new dual throttle body induction system, improved cooling all-round and a new oil management system. This enables the brand’s familiar “Coyote” naturally aspirated V8 engine to deliver 372 kW of power at 7 250 r/min with 567 N.m of torque, 10 kW more than the new GT derivative.
Performance is sent to the rear wheels via either a Tremec-sourced six-speed manual transmission (from the previous generation Mach 1) or an updated 10-speed automatic ‘box, as well as a standard Torsen limited-slip differential. The car also gains bespoke Pirelli-sourced rubber, front and rear.
While the car’s front seats could still offer a bit more lateral support than they do, all is forgiven at the site in the manual cars of a (3D printed) titanium transmission lever.
What does the new Ford Mustang Dark Horse cost?
With the local introduction of the seventh-generation Mustang still some months away (Ford SA only saying that it’ll arrive in 2024), it’s difficult to speculate what the cars will cost. Expect the Dark Horse to be available in limited numbers, though. Not because it’s a limited-edition model, but more in terms of how many units our market will receive at a time.
What are the Ford Mustang Dark Horse’s rivals?
Another difficult question to answer as, in a modern world, and despite its updated interior, the Mustang remains something of a, erm…lone horse.
Power figures and corresponding thunderous (active) exhaust note aside, the standout update to the Mustang package is newfound levels of poise and, dare I say, lightweight precision. This has been achieved via both a reconfigured steering rack that is around 3% quicker than before, but also by manipulation of the role that the brand’s otherwise impressive MagneRide adaptive dampers play.
As it was explained to me, the rear suspension on the Dark Horse has been granted a level of track-focused tautness that would otherwise have compromised the real-world ride quality of the car, were it not for the fact that the adaptive dampers could be re-engineered to compensate for this adjustment.
While I was also fortunate enough to sample the new US-only Handling Package that adds more downforce via a larger front spoiler and boot-mounted wing, together with semi-slick rubber for superior grip levels, even in its standard form, the Dark Horse felt almost nimble in the way it allowed me to manhandle my way around the infield section of the track (video to come).
Based on this experience, as well as an altogether more leisurely road section of our launch route later on in the day, I would suggest that at low speeds the Mustang retains a welcome level of boulevard cruising ability – with an accompanying, unmistakable sense of occasion – yet now offers the kind of dynamic ability that we’ve long been waiting for from this iconic nameplate.